Caring for a loved one or a patient can be rewarding. However, it can also be extremely stressful, especially for those who are caring for a family member whom they love dearly. Family caregivers are often thrust into the world of caregiving suddenly after an elderly loved one becomes ill or injures themselves. These caregivers are at a high risk for developing caregiver stress due to the everyday anxieties that come with added responsibility. Taking care of an aging loved one can also bring about unwelcome changes to the family dynamic and may apply financial pressures that were not there before. All of these things combined can lead to caregiver stress or even burnout.
In this post, we will review common signs of caregiver stress and burnout and provide family caregivers tips on how to manage them.
Overview of Caregiver Burnout & Stress
Caregiver burnout is a state that occurs when caregivers are emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted due to the daily stress of caregiving duties.
But what causes caregiver stress or burnout? Family caregiving often has long-term responsibilities that can become draining and disheartening over time, especially when your aging loved one doesn't show signs of improvement. As caregiver stress builds, it ultimately reaches a breaking point, or burnout.
Additionally, setting unrealistic expectations for yourself or for your loved one can put you on a path to burnout. Caregivers may have other responsibilities and put too much of a burden on their own shoulders, increasing stress. These responsibilities and roles that caregiver take on can become confusing and muddled together as caregivers struggle to separate their role as a caretaker from their role as a friend, spouse, parent, etc.
Not getting the support you need as a family caregiver can also lead to feelings of stress, isolation, and anxiety. As a primary caregiver, you must pay close attention to the signs of caregiver stress to help prevent burnout and hopelessness.
Signs & Symptoms of Caregiver Stress
There are many signs of caregiver stress that can serve as indicators for potential burnout. And these signs may manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the person. However, here are a few indicators to look out for:
- Anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep
- Change in appetite
- New or worsening health problems, such as high blood pressure or body aches
- Feelings of resentment
- Neglecting your own responsibilities
- Withdrawing from your social network
- Inability to concentrate
When these symptoms occur every now and then, it may be a sign of caregiver stress. If they occur constantly, you may have moved into caregiver burnout.
Signs & Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are more severe and more frequent than those of caregiver stress. If you have experienced caregiver stress and are wondering if you have reached the point of caregiver burnout, look for the following symptoms:
- Significant drop in energy
- Get sick easily
- Constant fatigue, even after taking a nap
- Neglect your own personal needs
- Caregiving feels like a chore
- Can't relax
- Feelings of hopelessness
Negative Effects of Caregiver Stress & Burnout
We know that being a caregiver is hard work. Most caregivers give their absolute all to provide the proper care for their patients. In doing so, they often forget about themselves and can easily become stressed. If a caregiver becomes stressed too often though or reaches burnout, then the health of their elderly patients can become affected. Having a caregiver who is constantly stressed out isn’t healthy for the caregiver or the patient.
Stressed or burned out caregivers can be at risk for heart disease and chronic inflammation. In turn, patients may feel guilty for placing that stress onto their loved one. This guilt can eat away at their health. Caregivers who experience stress may also inadvertently affect the well-being of their loved one by slacking off during their job. Stressed or burned out caregivers may give the wrong medications or hurry up and finish their daily jobs in order to leave work early.
Managing Caregiver Stress
Caregiver stress is a chronic challenge that must be addressed for the health of the caregiver and the patient. To manage stress and help prevent burnout, caregivers should take time to themselves each day and complete activities that they enjoy. Avoid caregiver burnout by exercising, eating right, and participating in fun hobbies. Here are some other ideas.
Certain scents are known to help us relax and calm our nerves. Lavender is one of the best fragrances for relaxing. It is often an ingredient in candles and relaxing bath products. If lavender is not a scent you enjoy, vanilla and jasmine are alternatives to help relax and improve your mood.
Focus on Your Breathing
People who meditate and practice yoga find peace through rhythmic breathing exercises to clear the mind and restore peace. To do this, breathe in deeply through your nose and out your mouth, focusing on your breaths. If you find this difficult without coaching, there are apps to help you focus on your breathing technique and melt the stress away.
Applying pressure to points on your body is an ancient technique to help with many bodily functions. Press your thumb into the center of the palm of the opposite hand and focus on the pressure. This pressure point is effective for the relief of stress and anxiety. These small steps will improve your mood and relieve stress and anxiety when you're strapped for time and money. Small steps like these prevent stress and anxiety from taking hold in your life and will make you a better student and caregiver.
You may come to realize that you cannot reasonably continue to provide 24/7 care to your loved one. Hiring a professional caregiver to help, whether full-time or part-time, can allow you to focus more on spending time with your loved one, instead of constantly worrying about what they need. It is also a good alternative to placing them in a care facility, such as a nursing home.
With less stress in their lives, caregivers can take care of their loved ones better and provide them with the loving care they need to stay healthy and happy. Learn more about stress and how to manage it in our Caregiver Stress Fact Sheet.